Beginner’s Luck

A new beginning!  We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new… Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.  Imagine that we could walk through the year always listening to a voice saying to us:  ‘I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!’  Imagine!”                                                                                             --Henri Nouwen


While I was writing Simple Abundance I always thought of myself as a beginner because to be perfectly frank, I didn’t know what in the world I was doing despite the fact that I had been a journalist for twenty-five years, a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of two previous books on Victorian family life. 

But Simple Abundance was something entirely different because when I started writing in the morning, I’d never knew where I would end up by the time I needed to drive the afternoon car pool.  Written between 1991 and 1995, in a spirit of daring introspection (at least for me) I sensed that this book and I were each other’s destiny—the book I was born to write—although I didn’t have a clue as to what this meant, or how to do it, other than my new ritual of keeping track of five things I had to be grateful for each day.  I originally kept my list on index cards because it was always the most fleeting of moments that ended up being the cheeriest: I found 2 batteries in the junk drawer and didn’t have to go out, Alleluia!  I could eek out supper from the pantry! Yippee! I discovered $20 in last year’s winter coat pocket!  Hooray!  Steady rain, I took a Sunday nap. Blessed be!

Eventually  my “beginner’s mind” found a way to string those index cards into a Gratitude Journal which very quickly turned into a new, fresh and passionate way to look at my daily round.  By searching for the sacred in my ordinary and giving thanks, my optimism returned.  In 366 essays, one for every day (including leap year!) I shared my revelations that came from trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with overwhelming commitments to my family and work, as a free-lance writer.  And if you’ve ever “free-lanced” anything, you know that’s really three jobs—sending out queries looking for work, writing the article (or illustrating or photography) on “spec” (which means you work for free and if the editor likes what you wrote you get paid) and then the personal achievement of assigned features.   There are few thrills in life as starting a job and knowing you’ll be paid for it. 

My gratitude journal from 1993

My gratitude journal from 1993

Like millions of women in the 1990s and ever since then, I was frantically multitasking from one obligation to another, moving so fast that my spirit felt as if it was constantly sprinting to catch up with me before I collapsed into bed.  Mornings were a major source of dread; my first conscious breath was a sigh; my awakening thought was how to make it through the day.  However, when I started keeping those index cards, I noticed I was waking up a little more hopeful. Hmmm…  Was gratitude the cause or effect? I became my own science project.  Just an experiment, mind you.   

I kept notes.  I found quotes.  Collecting quotes had always been a passionate hobby because in my early days as an apprentice feature writer, while I had my opinion on every story, I was considered an amateur whose point-of-view was neither sought, nor appreciated.  So I would find somebody famous, interesting, or historical to express what I was trying to say and quote them and it soon became my style.

As they say, beginner’s luck.  Because when you don’t actually realize what you don’t know, you always have a chance, especially if it’s a clever idea.  Now, of course, the entire world starts off their blogs and articles with quotes because it’s a terrific technique for opening up a conversation on the page or with yourself.   Writing is such a solitary occupation that it’s marvelous to share the space of the page with someone who understands how you’re feeling, writing and reading.

Believe it or not, the original manuscript of Simple Abundance ended up being 957 pages.  I never intended for it to be that long; it’s just having discovered that the world was round not flat, the source of the Nile and the Lost City of Z down the Amazon, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it back to my suburban home alive and in time to make dinner, so I needed this book to be my explorers log, one woman’s daily record of just how wonderful a New Year can be.

With hindsight, when I recall those five years, it seemed that the harder I worked, the luckier I became.  But the voices in my head didn’t agree, so every day I was greeted by the doomsday chorus: Why is it taking so long? It’s not coming at all, what are you doing with our life? You’re 45, get a grip, girl, and my favorite, “When are you going to get a real job?”  So I had to put blinders on and turn off the negativity.  My task as I saw it was to keep calm and type on. Later when I could look back on the perils of the page, it was fascinating to make the connection that the more I prayed and the longer I worked, the further I mysteriously moved towards being in the right place at the right time through the mystical chain of chance that eventually led me to having the first of many marvelous conversations with Oprah Winfrey on the miraculous power of keeping a Gratitude Journal.  She had also invited twenty million of her viewers to listen in.

Dame Good Fortune found me looking for Her, thank Goodness. A couple of weeks later I had the astonishing joy of waking up on my 49th birthday and walking down the driveway to pick up the newspapers, opening up the New York Times and discovering I was No #1 on the best-seller list. The “pink book” kept her perch for over two years. It was the best Sunday morning of my life but if I didn’t have the proof framed on my wall over where I write, I probably wouldn’t believe it either.

Which is why beginning, especially a New Year is always wonderful. Beginners (especially if you’ve been at it for a while) possess an undeniable streak of luck.    It takes a lot of do-overs and fresh starts to find a future with your name on it, so let’s aim for your name in lights.

Lucky fortune cookie.jpg

Still, you might be wondering how many beginnings must we embark upon before we grab the brass ring of another chance on life’s carousel? Well, I guess as many fresh starts as it takes to stick, as many times as a champion comes from behind, rolls with the punches, sinks the putt, hits it out of the park or wins by a nose.  As many times as it takes until you discover that you’ve got to be both a sprinter and a long distance runner in life’s marathon because guess what—there’s no gridlock on the extra mile. As many times as it takes until you realize that endurance now means more to you as the endeavor which got you going in the first place. Until you’ve lost track of how many times you’ve been on the ropes or down for the count. Because when you get up again, this time the gloves are coming off, Babe.  We’re getting real with ourselves and with Providence. 

Now I better understand the ripples of even small choices in the circle of life, the restorative, mystical power of cycles and giving Mother Time the respect and reverence She deserves. Did you know that it took scientists 100 years to prove Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?  The thought boggles the mind. I always loved Einstein’s explanation of his cosmos stirring discovery:  “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it feels like a minute.  Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like an hour.  That’s relativity.”   

Beginning again is the New Year’s gift to each of us.  However, beginning again is the ultimate DIY project for those of us who never thought we would have to begin again at this stage of our lives.  Here then, is a conundrum worthy of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Albert Einstein’s genius.  “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them … Imagination is everything.  It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

Hold that thought as we imagine a New Year that’s your personal idea of wonderful. How about we raise a glass of good cheer to living Simple Abundance, not just reading it.

Sending dearest love, blessings of peace and plenty and always, blessings on your courage.